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Surge in Gambia child deaths linked cough syrup under control, president says

BANJUL – Gambia’s President Adama Barrow on Friday said a surge in acute kidney injuries likely linked to a paracetamol syrup that killed dozens of children in past months was under control, with only two diagnoses in the last two weeks.

Authorities launched a probe last month after doctors in July noticed that a number of children developed symptoms after taking a locally-sold paracetamol syrup used to treat fevers.

Kidney injuries caused 66 child deaths in the past three months, Barrow said in an address to the nation, adding that investigations were ongoing.

The government has meanwhile ordered importers and shops to suspend sales of all brands of paracetamol syrup in the tiny West African country. The medicine has also been recalled from all pharmacies and households.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which is also investigating the deaths, on Wednesday said they could be linked to contaminated cough and cold syrups produced by an Indian drugmaker, New Delhi-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

The announcement followed a laboratory analysis that confirmed “unacceptable” amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which can be toxic and lead to acute kidney injury.

Maiden told Reuters on Thursday that it had only just heard about the deaths and was trying to find out details.

Barrow said Gambia’s health ministry was working with the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some syrup samples sent to Senegal, Ghana, France and Switzerland for testing showed signs of contamination on Thursday, he added without further details.

The health ministry is also reviewing quality checks on drug imports and other related regulations, Barrow said.